I was surprised to find Marc Malès’s Different Ugliness, Different Madness in my huge pile o’ stuff from this past week, as it was solicited just last month by DC. Apparently, they’re trying to get all of the Humanoids stuff out the door so they can close down yet another imprint in a series of interesting experiments that weren’t just spandex porn or Vertigo cash cows.1 This is an interesting graphic novel about confronting the mirror and accepting who is looking back on you and I enjoyed it quite a lot, even if the back cover copy makes it sound much more sappy than it is – “heartwrenching” is not an adjective I’d use to describe it, certainly, as that word brings to mind Bronte and other swoon-and-bemoan novelists from the 18th and 19th century.
Malès is a gifted storyteller, to say the least – he manages to tell a non-sequential story that includes multiple flashbacks and forward jumps without ever losing the reader. Special note must be made of his sparse Toth-like art, full of abstract black shapes that form perfect examples of minimalist faces and objects while still giving you all the detail you need so that emotions and thoughts are projected with perfect clarity. When Malès uses visual effects such as a fish-eye lens on page 78, it’s not for flash – this is in pure service to story.
As far as the story itself, I find it interesting to note how Europeans manage to convey universal truths about America in ways that Americans never manage. This happened with the Ennis and Dillon series Preacher, which was set in the America of myth, and Malès’s appraisal of the country during the first few decades of the twentieth century seems to take as much from Steinbeck as it does any “real” history. This is the sort of tale that could take place only when radio was king and travel wasn’t as antiseptic as it has become, with Lloyd and Helen’s parallel problems in regards to their reflections providing the reader with clues that build perfectly to a satisfying ending. This may be the tiniest bit clinical in regards to their traumas and tragedy, but I prefer that over mawkish pathos most of the time, especially when you get silent sequences that would be ruined by any sort of caption.
This is the sort of thing the comics market needs to see more of from the big publishers and it’s a shame that it’s not going to be happening anymore with DC.
1Paradox hasn’t put anything out in forever outside of the rather pointless sequel/prequel/midquel for Road To Perdition, and Pirahna, sadly, is now over a decade dead. Yes, Vertigo puts out some non-Sandman related titles, but for ever 100 Bullets or Y: The Last Man, it seems like there’s yet another story about someone from or related to The Endless because they know it’ll sell enough to get along without much effort.